Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Erudite Jailbirds

I hope to resume more regular posting—and Daily Random Flickr Blogging—with the new year, which, come to think of it, begins...holy crap! tomorrow!?! I've been getting some much-needed rest during the holiday break—and I've been doing some good old-fashioned pleasure reading. I finally got around to reading Norman Mailer's The Armies of the Night, for example, and found it quite enjoyable despite Mailer's famously obtrusive ego. The book, an odd hybrid of novel, memoir, and history—one might call it the product of an unspeakable ménage à trois—recounts Mailer's experiences surrounding the anti-war March on the Pentagon in October 1967. It's rife with interesting details and anecdotes that help to bring a sense of the Sixties to life for those of us who were scarcely post-natal—or for that matter nonexistent—at the time, but one paragraph in particular leaped out at me. At this point in the story, along with hundreds of other protestors, some famous, some not, Mailer has been arrested and is preparing to spend the night in a crowded jail cell in Occuquan, Virginia:

Definitive word came through. The lawyers were gone, the Commissioners were gone: nobody out until morning. So Mailer picked his bunk. It was next to Noam Chomsky, a slim sharp-featured man with an ascetic expression, and an air of gentle but absolute moral integrity. Friends at Wellfleet had wanted him to meet Chomsky at a party the summer before—he had been told that Chomsky, though barely thirty, was considered a genius at MIT for his new contributions to linguistics—but Mailer had arrived at the party too late. Now, as he bunked down next to Chomsky, Mailer looked for some way to open a discussion on linguistics—he had an amateur's interest in the subject, no, rather, he had a mad inventor's interest, with several wild theories in his pocket which he had never been able to exercise since he could not understand what he read in linguistics books. So he cleared his throat now once or twice, turned over in bed, looked for a preparatory question, and recognized that he and Chomsky might share a cell for months, and be the best and most civilized of cellmates, before the mood would be proper to strike the first note of inquiry into what was obviously the tightly packed conceptual coils of Chomsky's intellections. Instead they chatted mildly of the day, of the arrests (Chomsky had also been arrested with [protest leader David] Dellinger), and of when they would get out. Chomsky—by all odds a dedicated teacher—seemed uneasy at the thought of missing class on Monday. (Norman Mailer, The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History, Plume, 1968, p. 180)
My friend jules has actually met Chomsky and can perhaps vouch for that "air of gentle but absolute moral integrity." This passage illustrates one of the things I like about Mailer's style: his careful, logical yet elegant way of organizing paragraphs. This one is typical of many in The Armies of the Night; it at once (a) advances the story while (b) weaving in interesting digressional material and (c) ending with a punchy, evocative sentence that's like a decorative bow atop a well-wrapped present. For paragraphs like these, I can forgive Mailer much of his insufferable egotism. And bless his heart, he shares my fondness for the dash.

A Happy New Year's Eve to all and I'll see you in 2009.

A Certain Moral Imbecility

I first heard of the Zbigniew Brzezinski take-down of Joe Scarborough ("You know, you have such a stunningly superficial knowledge of what went on that it's almost embarrassing to listen to you") that everyone's talking about now through the good Attaturk yesterday. When I watched the clip he posted, though, what leaped out at me was not so much Brzezinski's disdainful verbal slaps at the blowhard Scarborough but his desperate attempts to argue for "a sense of proportion" when it comes to the "Israel is just defending itself" framing of the Gaza conflict—a framing that conveniently erases inconvenient facts and that effaces the astounding disproportion between the amount of harm done by Palestinian rockets (which, it must be acknowledged, is certainly not zero) and the amount done by Israeli bombs. Norman Solomon puts this in perspective:

Israelis and Arabs "feel that only force can assure justice," I. F. Stone noted soon after the Six-Day War in 1967. And he wrote, "A certain moral imbecility marks all ethnocentric movements. The Others are always either less than human, and thus their interests may be ignored, or more than human and therefore so dangerous that it is right to destroy them."

The closing days of 2008 have heightened the Israeli government's stature as a mighty practitioner of the moral imbecility that Stone described.

Israel's airstrikes "have killed at least 270 people so far, injured more than 1,000, many of them seriously, and many remain buried under the rubble so the death toll will likely rise," Phyllis Bennis, of the Institute for Policy Studies, pointed out on Sunday, two days into Israel's attack. "This catastrophic impact was known and inevitable, and far outweighs any claim of self-defense or protection of Israeli civilians." She mentioned "the one Israeli killed by a Palestinian rocket attack on Saturday after the Israeli assault began was the first such casualty in more than a year."

Even if you set aside the magnitude of Israel's violations of the Geneva conventions and the long terrible history of its methodical collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, consider the vastly disproportionate carnage in the conflict.

"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind," Gandhi said.

What about a hundred eyes for an eye?

And still no signs of a cease-fire, and John Bolton arguing that, gosh, this is the perfect time to attack Iran (is there ever a bad time to attack Iran, if you're a neocon?)—what a way to end 2008.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hypocrisy as a Way of Life

I can't say I'm surprised that pink, soft, and oily Mitch McConnell is already making noises about stopping an Obama economic stimulus plan even while the ink is still wet on Bush's no-strings-attached bailout for the financial industry, but jeez.

If you haven't read Digby's Halloween post on hypocrisy, do. The new year promises to bring many enlightening tutorials on the concept.

A Bevy of Best Photographs

Via MoJoBlog, we see that has put up a selection of Best Photographs from 2008 (parts one, two, and three), and I couldn't agree more: they are amazing. Check 'em out when you get a chance—trust me.

I Can't Bear to Look

I've spared myself exposure to TV news during the last few days, but since it usually follows elite consensus, I'm guessing it probably duplicates the rah-rah pro-Israel slant re. the Gaza bombings that Glenn Greenwald documents this morning. Democracy Now! remains a great source for those interested in a wider context than the usual "peace- and justice-loving Israel responds to Arab attacks" framing that one typically gets from the corporate media (and NPR). Yesterday's lengthy discussion is particularly worth checking out.

Remember: when the President does it, it's not illegal; when the U.S. does it, it's not torture; and when Israel does it, it's not a war crime. Apply, rinse, repeat.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holiday Reading

Anyone looking for some holiday reading could do worse than to click on the links below. Some of it is good for holiday cheer; some...not so much.

Jonathan Stein at MoJoBlog says "Michigan Will Not Vote Republican for a Generation."

E. Benjamin Skinner points out that slavery is closer to home than you think, and "today there are more slaves than at any time in human history."

David Sirota laments that "we all live in Las Vegas now":

Sure, Vegas boasts of renewable power investments and energy-saving light bulbs. But bragging about such efforts rather than simply shutting stuff off is as silly as Arnold Schwarzenegger trumpeting his supposed commitment to environmentalism by pledging to make one of his Hummers more fuel efficient.

But that's always been the American way, hasn't it? We don't stop driving Hummers around a warming planet just like we don't stop building population centers in deserts, just like we don't stop gambling when wages drop, just like we don't stop wasting energy on casino signs. Why? Because it’s fun to drive tanks, live in desert climates, double-down on 11 and gape at bright lights in the big city. And during the years of cheap energy, income growth and seemingly endless water supplies, fun always trumped pragmatism.

That period, of course, has been supplanted by the Age of the Finite. And to its (few) sober visitors, Vegas implicitly asks whether our whole society is genuinely ready for that new reality.

Whether hanging Christmas lights in Toledo, buying SUVs in Boulder, taking long showers in Atlanta, residing in sprawly suburbs near Chicago, or overspending anywhere, we are all Las Vegans now. And because we have become so environmentally and economically interconnected, what happens in our own Vegas no longer stays in our own Vegas -- it affects everyone.

Knowing that, are we ready to turn off some lights in our homes? Is it possible for Americans to forfeit McMansion dreams, drive smaller cars, take public transit, embrace water restrictions, or live in more sustainable geographies? Can we resist materialism, halt the bone-crushing stampedes to Wal-Mart, and stop needlessly spending beyond our means?

In other words, will we finally accept the public policy and lifestyle changes that the real world now requires? Or will "Viva Las Vegas" always be America's motto?

SEC whistleblower Gary Aguirre gives us a big hint as to how Bernard Madoff was able to get away with the biggest Ponzi scheme in history:
All the agencies have to some extent or another a revolving door [where government employees rotate out to the private sector and earn more money]. But at the SEC, what you rotate into is an enormous salary leap. SEC managers may make $200,000. That same person may make $2 million as a starting salary on the outside and can move up from there. Now, when he leaves, I'm not sure he's worth $2 million as a lawyer, but he takes his Rolodex with him and that Rolodex is gold. The system maintains itself, because those that stay know their turn will come if they play the game. They see a director or associate director move onto a $2 million job with a Wall Street law firm. Then, the departed employee calls back to his former colleagues and says, "you know I really don't think there is much of a case against so-and-so, I'd like for you to take a look at it." And the case goes away; the system goes on in perpetuity.
Speaking of Charles Ponzi, Rory O'Connor tells us about him—and about Ponzi Democracy.

ProPublica offers Bush By the Numbers (h/t MoJoBlog).

Finally, Dean Baker finds some silver lining amidst the gathering economic clouds. It seems that the crash in house and stock prices has also meant a rise in real wages and lower prices on oil, cars, hotel rooms, and other goodies; why, it's almost as if reality is trying to teach us something:

The real lesson that the public should learn from recent experience is how the income of one segment of society is a cost to others. The wealthy understand this point very well, which is why they design policies (for example trade and immigration policies) that are intended to depress the wages of less-educated workers.

If they can get low-paid workers to tend their gardens, serve them meals in restaurants, paint their homes and serve as nannies for their children, it raises their standard of living. The wealthy, along with the highly educated professionals who are largely sheltered from international competition, directly benefit when most workers are forced to accept lower living standards.

In the same vein, when the rich lose wealth it is a gain to everyone else. In short, they have our money. We don't need them to spend, since the government can spend just as well as rich people do. Unless they can show how their actions are increasing the productive potential of the economy as a whole (that would be quite a joke with regards to the Wall Street gang), the rest of us are made better off when the rich have less.

Happy holidays!

Happy Xmas (II)

Apparently, there's a purge of neocons under way at the American Enterprise Institute.

Again, it may not be in keeping with the holiday spirit, but here's a suggestion:

Lock 'em all in a room without food or water. Give whichever one emerges victorious at the end a box of grapefruit or something.

It's the least we could do, considering all the joy they've brought to the world.

Happy Xmas (I)

It may not be in keeping with the holiday spirit, but I've been catching up with media news from the past month or so and just had to give a shout-out about (a) Alan Colmes forcing Sean Hannity to find a new "liberal" "foil" and (b) E.D. Hill getting fist-jabbed off of Fox after 11 years.

Fox is over. If you want it.

Karl Marx Laughs from the Afterlife He's as Surprised as Anyone to Find Himself In

I've finally had a chance to do some catching up with The Daily Show online, and I must say that it's provided the single most useful perspective on the government's, um, remarkably different treatment of (a) the financial industry and (b) the auto industry: "Wall Street lost $7 trillion without selling anything. At least when Detroit loses money, we get cars."

But don't ask where the bailout money's going. That would be gauche. Or something.

Shhh. Can't Talk.

Listening to Bach's Christmas Oratorio. Back later.

"I did more to make Christianity attractive than an entire army of Rick Warrens ever did, will, or could. Invoke this."

Friday, December 05, 2008

Random Flick Blogging, #1205: Happy Birthday to jules!

Hey! Look! A post!

I'm going to be busy and pretty much on hiatus for a while yet, but I wanted to kick this thing back to life long enough to wish jules a very happy birthday and to suggest some fine entertainments for the occasion.

What could be more fun on your birthday than Open Mic Night—OF THE DAMNED? "I saw the b... minds of my g... gener...generation destroyed by m... madness, striving... starving hys... hystorical.... hysterical naked...."
If you liked Koyaanisqatsi the film, you're gonna love Koyaanisqatsi the video game. "Oh, crap—what's the 'Balance' command?" "Control-Alt-F6! Control-Alt-F6!"
Karlheinz Stockhausen followed his radical Helicopter Quartet, in which the musicians play from within separate hovering helicopters, with a much more poppish updating of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! This is from the great Act II set piece, "The Learjet and the Gulfstream Should Be Friends."
Thanks to Harry Breuer, what the trumpet is to heroism and the drumroll is to suspense, the xylophone is to autoerotic asphyxiation.
If you go out, just make sure to vet your babysitter more carefully than the Republicans vetted Sarah Palin. Otherwise...*slurrrp*

Happy birthday, jules—and many more. --nash

(Images originally uploaded by ; Random Flickr Blogging explained here.)


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